The media has been saying that the Conservative government’s Throne Speech tomorrow is going to be about Canadian consumers.
To my mind, Canadian consumers have a responsibility to be ethical, just as do the designers, manufacturers and retailers.
Sure, we all know, or should know, that unfettered capitalism is about greed and the almighty bottom line. Over a hundred plus years ago, people worked in dirty, toxic, freezing cold or stiflingly hot, dark environments.
They also worked in those environments twelve hours a day for six or seven days a week. And, children worked those hours alone or alongside their parents. They had no choice. They had to eat. So, have we come full circle?
Canadian retailers today often have their clothing and products manufactured or sourced in countries where the labour is cheap and where the rules are like they were here a hundred years ago. Bangladesh. India. China. Mexico. Vietnam. All developing nations.
Yes, a new Safety Agreement was signed recently by major Canadian retailers as a result of that most recent building collapse in Bangladesh. But, will it make any difference?
Well, maybe it will make a difference if our government enacts policies and legislation that makes sure those who are manufacturing our clothing and products in developing countries are doing so in an ethical fashion — like providing their workers safe and clean working conditions.
And, yes, in my opinion, by moderating greed and the obsession with profit margin just a tiny bit, it can be done! For example, in Kelley’s CBC video, starting at the 4:12 mark he interviews a Montreal clothing manufacturer by the name of Barry Laxer who built factories in Bangladesh.
What Laxer says, and what we can see in the CBC video, is that his factory workers wear face masks for protection from the lint, dust and dye that comes off the fabrics . There is lots of light and space. There are no bars on the windows. His employees look at ease. And, Laxer says he pays his workers three times the local minimum wage.
Is this what the Conservative Throne Speech is going to be about? I don’t know. Frankly, I imagine it will be more about making consumer goods more economical for Canadians — which will be a good thing when it comes to telecommunications and television providers because like the fashion retailers who go to places like Bangladesh to make their products as cheaply as possible, Rogers, Telus and Bell don’t want to do anything that would adversely affect their profit margins.
In any event, the crux of the matter is that a Consumer Bill of Rights must also consider a consumer’s responsibility to be an “Ethical Buyer” (even if that includes boycotting big name brands that we know use foreign manufacturers that ignore the safety of their workers.)
Update October 24th, 2013: Loblaws (Joe Fresh) has announced that it and other retailers will compensate victims and families of last spring’s Bangladesh factory collapse tragedy. Thankfully! Better late than never.